West Chester quadruple murder case the latest to be slowed by need for interpreter

Gurpreet Singh in Butler County Common Pleas Court

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Gurpreet Singh in Butler County Common Pleas Court

The criminal case against a Butler County man accused in one of the region’s most notorious recent crimes is the latest example of a case affected by the need for an interpreter.

Gurpreet Singh, 37, charged with four counts of aggravated murder, is accused of killing his wife, in-laws and his wife’s aunt April 28 in their West Chester Twp. apartment.

Singh’s case was re-started — which “irritated” presiding Common Pleas Judge Greg Howard — because months into the proceedings and after numerous court appearances his defense team from Rittgers and Rittgers requested an interpreter, even though the prosecutor’s office said Singh spoke English during his 911 call and interviews with the West Chester Twp. Police Department.

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Attorney John R. Bernans told Howard at a hearing last week that based on Singh’s questions after a bond hearing “for the first time he didn’t comprehend what was going on.”

So the case started over. On Monday, Singh, accompanied by an interpreter who speaks fluent Punjabi, appeared fora new arraignment.

Other notable cases around southwest Ohio and the Miami Valley have seen delays and issues surrounding the use of interpreters.

In June, Jose Martimez, 23, of Maryland, was charged in Clark County Municipal Court with obstructing official business and pleaded not guilty. His initial arraignment hearing was postponed because he needed an interpreter, according to court documents.

Martimez later was found guilty and sentenced to 30 days in jail, according to court records.

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Last week in Fairfield, Subha Katel was sentenced to a 180-day suspended jail sentence and five years of reporting probation after being found guilty earlier this month of negligent homicide in the shooting death of her husband, Tika Katel. The sentencing hearing was delayed for about two hours because of a scheduling issue with the interpreter. Katel, an American citizen, is a native of Bhutan and spoke Nepali, so every hearing required an interpreter.

Earlier this month, a 63-year-old man from Dayton asked to suppress evidence against him because he didn’t understand his constitutional rights. Victor Santana, an American citizen whose native language is Spanish, is charged with four counts of murder, five counts of felonious assault and one count of attempt to commit murder.

His attorneys said he made allegedly incriminating statements during a police interrogation and they should be tossed because “such statements were involuntary and/or were obtained without an accurate understanding and waiver of his constitutional rights,” according to court documents.

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Steve Longworth, Middletown Municipal Court administrator, said the Ohio Supreme Court has a list of certified interpreters who are used. Sometimes, he said, Middletown uses a language line that allows the court to call in and use an interpreter to assist a defendant in court. This system is used during quick court appearances, he said.

Courts in Ohio pay for interpreters, though they can contract with companies that offer interpreting services, which must be certified by the Ohio Supreme Court. They can also use the Ohio Supreme Court's free Telephonic Interpretation service, which is in high-demand, said Fairfield Administrator Ed Roberts.

Fairfield Municipal Court has a Spanish-speaking interpreter in court every Wednesday, and police officers are directed to cite anyone who may need a Spanish interpreter into court those days, said Court Administrator Eddie Roberts.

For any other language, he said, “We make every effort to have someone there if there’s even the hint that an interpreter’s needed.”

Translations aren’t limited to the spoken word, said Roberts. On occasion, they need to bring in a sign language interpreter for the deaf.

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In Clark County, a deaf Springfield man who couldn’t read lips or read proficiently was arrested in February 2018 on a warrant for a traffic violation. Derrick Lake, 29, was handcuffed and couldn’t communicate with arresting officers, and later sued the county and sheriff’s office in federal court. According to the complaint, Lake claimed deputies immediately realized he was deaf but didn’t ensure Miranda rights would be understood.

Lake’s case is scheduled for a jury trial for July 27, 2020.

The job of an interpreter is to “interpret what is being said,” said Ci Zak, of Cincinnati-based Affordable Language Services. “They’re just there for the voice. They cannot give opinions.”

Affordable Language’s minimum standard for interpreters is to be 85 percent fluent in English and the language they’re translating, Zak said.

“They have to be fluent and highly proficient,” she said. “And as a skill set, it’s a very high level of cognitive thinking, taking one language and spewing it out in a whole nother language.”

And sometimes those languages do not have a translation, she said. For example, she said, there’s not a translation for the term “chronic condition” in some languages, so interpreters have to come up with ways to convey that meaning.

“Most interpreters, they don’t go in blind to an assignment, they will prepare ahead of time,” Zak said. “They’re prepared with the language they’ll encounter and prepared for the specific court case because a lot of judges don’t have time to be waiting on an interpreter to figure out how to say something.”